Stay Safe in Big Cat Country

Mountain lion, cougar, puma or panther ? these are names used for one of North America?s largest cats (only a jaguar is larger.)

If you and your American Quarter Horse are out riding trails in mountain lion territory, you might encounter one of these big cats.

Mountain lion habitats now cover most of western United States, western Canada and certain wooded, hilly and coastal areas in the United States.

Be able to identify a mountain lion.

These big cats are tawny-colored, with white undersides, big feet and long tails with black tips. They do not have spots, although their cubs do until maturity. The back of a mountain lion?s small rounded ears and whisker areas are dark. They can weigh between 75 and 275 pounds. Mountain lions can range in length from 5 to 9 feet, including their tail.

Warning signs on the trail.

There are certain clues along the trail that can help you know when you have wandered into big-cat territory:

  • Vertical scratches and gashes on tree trunks.
  • Remains of kill, loosely covered with branches or leaves.
  • Round paw prints that have all four toes showing but no claw marks, three to four inches long, 12 to 28 inches apart.

Big Cat Ahead

What to do when you see a mountain lion on the trail:

  • Stop. Do not panic. The mountain lion may simply wander off, especially when it realizes the tremendous size of a human on a horse.

If the cat sits there:

  • Back your horse, calmly turn around and ride back the way you came.
  • Do not gallop! Walk. Running can encourage the big cat to chase you.

If you are leading a horse:

  • Stand close to the horse to appear as one big object in the mountain lion?s eyes.
  • Turn the horse, keeping yourself between the horse and the cat.
  • Do not try to remount, as it will pull you in an awkward position if the mountain lion attacks.

A rider?s actions and body language affect a horse more than an actual cat on the trail will. Mountain lions are clean animals and do not carry the ?frightening? stench characteristics of some other wild animals, like bears.

The hiding that a cat does, slinking through brush or slipping around a tree, will cause a horse to become tense simply because it is unable to fix the creature in its field of vision.

Stay alert on the trail. Let your horse be an alarm system; he will sense danger quicker than you will.

From American Quarter Horse Journal.

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